BEST OF THE WEB: Another false-flag: Two more oil tankers attacked in Gulf of Oman, possibly with torpedoes – UPDATES
The tensions in the Middle East are back up to boiling point after a second incident involving tankers along the world’s most important oil choke-point. So, here’s a round-up of all the relevant news that broke this day.
Two oil tankers were hit in an apparent attack in the Strait of Hormuz, about 70 nautical miles from the UAE port of Fujairah and about 14 nautical miles off Iran’s coast.
One of the vessels was the Aframax-class Kokuka Courageous tanker, registered in Panama and operated by the Singapore-based Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement.
The other was the Front Altair, a Marshall Islands-flagged crude oil tanker owned by Norway’s Frontline.
How Serious Was the Damage?
This is where some media outlets contradict each other.
Bernhard Schulte said that Kokuka Courageous was “safely afloat”, but its starboard hull was breached above the water line. Its 21 crew members had safely abandoned the tanker, with one crew member being slightly injured.
Kokuka‘s cargo of methanol was intact, according to a spokesperson for the vessel’s manager.
Meanwhile, Iran’s state-run IRNA reported that Front Altair, which was carrying 75,000 tonnes of naphtha, had sunk.
Frontline chief executive Robert Hvide Macleod was quick to debunk the report. “I can confirm that the vessel has NOT sunk,” he said in a statement to AFP, adding that the 23 people on board were “all safe.”
Maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global said the ship hadn’t sunk but was “on fire and adrift.” Aerial footage from the area appeared to show that a huge blaze resulted from the incident.
Who Rescued the Sailors?
While both Frontline and Bernhard Schulte confirmed that the crews were safe, controversy aroused as to who rescued them.
The IRNA reported that Iranian rescue teams evacuated the 44 sailors from both vessels and took them to the Iranian port of Jask. However, US officials were quoted by CBS as calling these claims “patently false.”
Shipping newspaper TradeWinds reported, citing sources that were close to the site, that Frontline’s crew was picked up by South Korean cargo ship Hyundai Dubai.
The US Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet also reported earlier in the day that it was rendering assistance the vessels after they had sent distress signals to ports in the vicinity.
Was It an Attack?
There has been no immediate confirmation, but several sources suggest that the vessels were likely struck by torpedoes. Norway’s maritime authority said that Front Altair was “attacked” and there were three blasts reported.
Meanwehile, Tradewinds said, citing industry sources, that the two tankers were torpedoed.
Iranian media, which were among the first to break the news about the incident, said two consecutive explosions were heard in the area.
What Was the Reaction?
Unnamed US defence officials were quick to blame Tehran, telling CBS it was “highly likely Iran caused these attacks”.
According to White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, Donald Trump has been briefed on the incident while the government “is providing assistance and will continue to assess the situation”.
Russia has warned against “hasty conclusions” and “any attempts to lay the blame on those who are unwanted by a number of well-known states.”
Iran’s foreign minister said the timing of the suspected attacks is “suspicious” as they coincided with the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Iran to cool mounting tensions with the US.
His comments came shortly after the Japanese Trade Ministry said the two vessels had “Japan-related cargo”.
The EU’s diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini called for “maximum restraint and avoiding any escalation on a military side”.
The United Kingdom expressed concerns about the incident and is now “in contact with local authorities and partners in the region”, according to a government spokesperson.
Meanwhile, the Norwegian Maritime Authority called on its ships to maintain a safe distance from Iranian waters, while the country’s foreign ministry said that such incidents “contribute to a further escalation of tensions in the region”.
Investors are among the most sensitive observers, as usual; oil prices jumped by 4 per cent on the news.
An Unsettling Trend
It comes just a month after another mysterious incident in the Gulf of Oman, in which four commercial vessels docked off the UAE coast were targeted by limpet mines placed by trained divers, according to Emirati investigators.
The UAE concluded that it was likely the work of a “state actor” but stopped short of naming Tehran. The United States, on the other hand, was quick to directly blame Iran. The rationale, top US officials said, was to raise global oil prices – a charge Tehran denied.
The US and Iran are embroiled in an escalating war of words and even military escalation, which followed Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal and the introduction of crippling economic sanctions. Washington has been pursuing a “maximum pressure” policy, meant to bully Iran into negotiating a new nuclear deal, since Donald Trump believes the previous one did not stop the Islamic Republic from pursuing nuclear weapons development.
As the saying goes, nothing in politics happens by accident. One tanker union said that oil shipments to the West could be jeopardized if the Strait of Hormuz becomes unsafe:
“We need to remember that some 30% of the world’s (seaborne) crude oil passes through the Straits. If the waters are becoming unsafe, the supply to the entire Western world could be at risk.”
In response to the latest provocation in one of the most strategically important regions in the entire world, Iran has called for an international effort to protect important waterways in the region.
It is highly unlikely that Iran is behind these attacks. Sabotage is not their MO, but it certainly is the MO of certain ‘Western’ intel agencies.
A false-flag to demonize Iran is right in the CIA/Mossad’s wheelhouse.
A great deal of interested parties have noted how a Gulf of Tonkin-style attack could take place in the Strait of Hormuz to escalate tensions and get the Western population to accept a war against Iran. Could this be part of that plan?
UPDATE 13/06/2019 19:18: Warmonger Pompeo sticks to the neocon playbook and blames Iran
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said Washington believes Iran is behind the attack on two Japanese tankers in Gulf of Oman. He believes Tehran wants to end “successful maximum pressure campaign” of Washington’s sanctions.
“This is only the latest in the series of attacks instigated by the Republic of Iran and its surrogates against American allies and interests. They should be understood in the context of four years of unprovoked aggression against freedom-loving nations,” Pompeo said.
Pompeo didn’t provide any proof for his claims, but reminded reporters that back in April Iran threatened to interrupt the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz.
He listed a series of incidents in the Middle East, including the attack on tanker ships at port in the United Arab Emirates, that US has blamed on Iran. There has been no proof offered by the US that Tehran is behind the attacks, and Iran denies any involvement.
Pompeo, however, claimed that Tehran was “lashing out” at Washington’s “successful maximum pressure campaign” which has consisted of several layers of sanctions.
US ambassador to the UN Jonathan Cohen has been instructed to bring up “Iran’s attacks” in the UN Security Council session on Thursday afternoon.
UPDATE 14/06/2019: The finger pointing has begun as the various countries involved put out their versions of the incident.
Yutaka Katada, president of Kokuka Sangyo, owner of the Kokuka Courageous, disputes US claims that the vessel was damaged by a naval mine. He said the ship’s crew spotted “flying objects” before the attack in the Gulf of Oman. Tanker owner seems to dispute U.S. account of Gulf of Oman attack. Company president Yutaka Katada said Friday he believes the flying objects seen by the sailors could have been bullets. He denied any possibility of mines or torpedoes because the damage was above the ship’s waterline.
In the meantime the US released a video purporting to show a limpet mine being removed from the stricken ship. However many comments below the tweet dispute the US’ characterization of the video, pointing out discrepancies in the Navy’s interpretation
Iran’s foreign minister tweeted that the attack “suspiciously” came at the same time as the Japanese prime minister was sitting down for “extensive and friendly” discussions with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei.
Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said, ” At this moment, we haven’t been asked to send Japan’s Self Defense Forces. So, we don’t have a plan to send the units to the region near the Strait of Hormuz to respond to this incident.”
Iwaya added that Japanese citizens are not at risk right now, but if that changes the government would make a different judgment.
NHK’s position in itself reveals that Japan-US relations are strained, as Japanese authorities would neither encourage NHK nor allow workers of the vessel to make public reportage and claims which contradict those of Pompeo and the American administration.